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In summer, a party can erupt any time of the day. Whether you're serving a casual outdoor picnic or an elegant seated affair, we'll help you throw together a stress-free menu in no time.
A chilled salad is a no-brainer first course for a summer lunch, and The Culinary Institute of America's Avocado and Crab Salad and Chilled Watermelon Salad are the best of the bunch. Like most salads, all the components can be prepared ahead of time (even the avocado), and served on a platter for a buffet or family-style meal, or plated individually for a sit-down lunch.
Seafood and shellfish may seem daunting to prepare ahead of time, since the importance of their freshness is so deeply ingrained in our minds. And for good reason, since fresh fish can spoil easily. However, CIA Chef Bruce Mattel says, "Popular shellfish items such as shrimp, crab, and lobster can be prepared and served successfully if cooked right and especially if served chilled, which ensures success and protects product quality." Just be sure to keep your cooked items as cold as possible during storage and serving.
Though the summer is a great time to buy fresh crabs (or catch them, if you're lucky enough to live on the coast), there are many high-quality lump crabmeats on the market that can help cut your prep time. Take a few minutes to carefully pick through the meat and remove small shell pieces, which can be done the day before your party. Refrigerate the meat in a bowl or dish set over an ice bath to help keep it as fresh as possible.
Avocado strikes fear in the hearts of party planners around the world. Sure, it's delicious and creamy, but we all know what happens mere minutes after slicing. Even though a browned avocado still tastes fine, it's not what we had in mind for our beautiful lunch spread. But we've got a trick that will change how you feel about avocado forever (guacamole for everyone!).
Browning occurs when the avocado is exposed to oxygen, which degrades the color and texture of the fruit. An easy way to slow oxidation is to submerge your diced avocado in a bath of ice cold water diluted with lemon or lime juice (about 1 tablespoon per 2 cups of water will do the trick). The water and acid from the juice will help preserve the avocado's color and texture.
Of course, extended soaking will soften the avocado, so it's best to prep this the morning of the party rather than the night before. This trick also works for guacamole. Make your dip, spread it in your bowl, and pour in enough cold water to cover. Just pour it off and mix up the dip before serving.
Other fruits, like watermelon, hold up well when cut and refrigerated. They can be prepared the day before (in fact, our entire Watermelon Salad can be made a day ahead. Just add the herbs right before serving, so they don't brown). Raw vegetables are often great make-ahead items, but can dry out and wilt if not stored properly. Items like chopped onions, sliced radishes, and fresh chilies should be wrapped in a damp paper towel, then sealed in a zip-top bag. This will help keep them crisp and vibrant — just like your party.
AVOCADO AND CRAB SALAD
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 mango, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tablespoons lime juice, divided use
1/2 yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
2 avocados, cut into ¼-inch dice
10 ounces lump crabmeat
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 radishes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Microgreens as needed for garnish (optional)
Rice crisps or crackers, for serving (optional)
In a blender, combine the mango and 1 tablespoon of the lime juice and purée until smooth. Place in a covered container and refrigerate until needed.
In a bowl, combine the onion, garlic, scallions, jalapeno, avocado, remaining lime juice, crabmeat, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.
Layer the radishes on a serving platter (or, if serving individually, divide among 8 salad plates). Top with the crabmeat mixture and garnish with cilantro and microgreens, if using. Serve with the reserved mango mixture and rice crisps or crackers, if desired.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
2 cups diced watermelon
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
In a bowl, combine the watermelon, shallots, mint, jalapeno, and oil. Toss to combine and serve chilled.
Nutrition information per serving of crab salad: 158 calories; 72 calories from fat; 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 40 mg cholesterol; 363 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 10 g protein.
Nutrition information per serving of watermelon salad: 45 calories; 32 calories from fat; 4 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 1 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 0 g protein.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.